WASHINGTON, July 11: The reopening of Nato supply routes is having an impact on the US Congress as well where top lawmakers are now backing the Obama administration’s decision to release $1.1 billion to Pakistan.
The money comes from the Coalition Support Fund, which is used for reimbursing US allies for the costs they incur in fighting terrorists.
The funds have been held up for months as relations between the two countries nosedived following a US air raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on Nov 26.
The issue was resolved last week when the United States apologised over the raid and Islamabad reopened crucial Nato supply lines it had closed after the incident.
“I would approve it,” Chairman Carl Levin of the Senate Armed Services Committee told reporters in Washington. “This is not supposed to be a gift; this is supposed to be a reimbursement.”
The senator pointed out that Pakistan had ‘earned’ this reimbursement because it had been using its own resources to fight terrorists and for “protecting our flow of oil”.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a senior Republican member of the committee, said if the US commander believed “releasing the funds helps the war effort, I don’t want to second guess these people.”
The Republican lawmaker described Pakistan as a ‘very hard’ ally because “you can’t trust them, you can’t abandon them” either.
“I want Pakistan to be stable and if the money helps them become more stable, good. If you cut the money off, what leverage do you have? There may come a day when we do that, but not yet,” he said.
Meanwhile, a US military newspaper, the Star and Stripes, reported that the United States had lifted restrictions on roughly $2.5 billion in foreign aid to Pakistan.
Over half of that US aid, or $1.5 billion, would be distributed to Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund, the report said, adding that a portion of the remaining $1 billion would be sent to Pakistan under the Pentagon’s foreign military financing programme.
The rest of the money will be handed over as part of the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, better known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill. The first payouts are scheduled to begin this month.
In a related development, a senior aide to Senator Rand Paul, who is pushing for a vote later this month to cut off US aid to Pakistan, told reporters she was not sure if the senator would still get support from other lawmakers for his move.
Senator Paul, a Republican, wants Pakistan to release Dr Shakil Afridi, who helped the CIA locate Osama bin Laden, if it wants US aid.
But Moira Bagley, a spokeswoman for Mr Paul, said it was unclear whether the Senate would get a vote on the reimbursement money because the funds have been appropriated.